21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
Enjoy magnificent nature and seasonal feasts, surrounded by the snow-capped Daisetsuzan mountains in the "navel of Hokkaido".
The city of Asahikawa is near the center of the island of Hokkaido, at the foot of the breathtaking, snow-capped Daisetsuzan mountain range. Due to its location in a mountain basin, the town enjoys more seasonal weather variation than Hokkaido's other cities, allowing visitors to enjoy an array of nature that constantly changes with the seasons. The region, also known as the "navel of Hokkaido," contains the second-largest city in Hokkaido after Sapporo, making access from the rest of Japan a snap. Direct flights are available to Asahikawa Airport, and Sapporo's New Chitose Airport is just a two-hour drive. The charming towns of Biei and Furano are also a stone's throw away. Hokkaido's well-known nature and food culture are yours to enjoy in this city. Not too far away from Sapporo, it's a great base from which to explore the rest of what this island has to offer.
If you're looking for nature at its finest, take in the dazzling Mount Asahi, the highest peak in the Daisetsuzan range, and all of Hokkaido. If it's good food you're after, try some classic Asahikawa ton-toro (pork belly) and shio-horumon (salted pork offal). In this installment, we'll be exploring some of Hokkaido's many charms with one of our Asahikawa-native JAL cabin attendants, along with official town mascot Asappy.
Ueno Farm gives you a chance to stroll through a true "Hokkaido garden" one that fully expresses the native seasonal plants of Japan's northern lands. The garden, which extends over 71,000 square feet, is filled with flowers and plants that bloom and grow over multiple seasons. I always stop by whenever I'm visiting Asahikawa. As head gardener and published author Sayuri Ueno puts it, the garden "lets you view flora that thrive in Hokkaido's unique climate at different times of the year than you'd expect in Japan's Honshu mainland." Getting to stroll around the garden with official Asahikawa mascot Asappy made the experience all the more unforgettable!
Nagayama-cho 16-186-2, Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaido
For lunch, I got to try the vegetable curry (only 15 servings made per day!) at this cafe, surrounded by authentic Hokkaido nature. Getting to enjoy all the locally-grown produce amidst this beautiful scenery was truly a heartwarming experience. Nearby there's also the Shed House, a rental space open to the public. You're free to rent the space for long-term stays, or even open up seasonal shops inside it's up to you. If you're looking for a taste of the rural life in Japan, the Shed House could be perfect.
cafe good life
Higashi-sakuraoka 52-2, Higashi-asahikawa-cho, Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaido
Anyone visiting Hokkaido has to enjoy a horseback nature ride at least once! Clark, the owner, built this riding center all by himself, giving visitors a chance to enjoy Western-style horseback riding close to the vast Daisetsuzan mountains. After a quick lecture on riding, it's up on your horse and away on a leisurely ride through the woods. I was pretty nervous at first, but getting to lose myself in all of this lush greenery was a real refresher. I'm not sure what the horses thought about Asappy, though!
Clark Horse Garden
Sakuraoka 160-4, Higashi-asahikawa-cho, Asahigawa-shi, Hokkaido
A 40-minute drive from Asahikawa Airport brings you to a quiet nook renowned nationwide for its potters. Lined with a variety of craft shops, it's often compared to the Arashiyama district of Kyoto. Framboise is a small shop run by a woman who offers gardening goods and assorted antiques she has procured in Europe and elsewhere. I found a nice little piece for my mother here. The garden, surrounded by white birch trees, also offers a stunning view.
Asahioka 2-12-1, Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaido
Asahikawa is the home of shio-horumon (salted pork offal) cuisine. Sumi-ya specializes in shio-horumon, and it's also well known around Hokkaido for being the first to make ton-toro (pork belly) dishes popular. The restaurant starts every day with a new delivery of fresh pork from local providers. The chef seasons it with nothing but salt and pepper. The charcoal-roasted shio-horumon combines the subtle qualities of the meat with a nice, smoky wood-fire flavor. It's a package you have to taste to believe! The dark interior evokes the authentic atmosphere of an old-timey restaurant, but if you're visiting in the summertime, I'd suggest sitting in the outdoor terrace for a bright, resort-like feel.
Akashiya-koji, 5-jo-8, Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaido
This museum houses approximately 130 pieces from Sumio Goto, a Nihonga-style artist who's one of the leading lights of Japanese art. My personal favorite is "Ouka Jouen Souzu" (Twin Views of the Cherry Blossom Shrine), located in the Ouka section right near the entrance. Goto used gold leaf to complete this dynamic depiction of two enormous cherry blossom trees. It's mesmerizing to see in person.
Goto Sumio Museum of Art
26, Higashi-4-senkita, Kamifurano-cho, Sorachi-gun, Hokkaido
Another top attraction is the Furano Grill restaurant on the second floor. I enjoyed a dish of locally-raised Kamifurano pork simmered in a hearty stew, followed by some dessert sweets and grape juice made from 100% Furano red grapes. Sit out in the terrace if you can you'll get to see the Mt. Tokachi range spread out before your eyes!
Aoiike (or Blue Pond), located near the Shirogane hot springs in the town of Biei, is a man-made pond built in order to block the volcanic mud flow from nearby Mt. Tokachi. The clear light-blue waters are a sight to behold ・and what's more, they apparently don't know why the water took this color after construction. This pristine pond nestled in a forest of birch trees is really mystical, and definitely a great off-the-beaten-path spot to visit. Just make sure you pay attention to the trail signs ・you'll have trouble finding it otherwise!
Shirogane, Biei-cho, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido
We're finally near the end of our dynamic tour of Hokkaido's great outdoors. To recharge from all the trailblazing I've been doing, I stopped by this beauty salon in the Hotel Park Hills, a five-minute drive from Aoiike Pond. The full-body massage I received made me feel like a brand-new woman! There are private rooms for two available, too, so you can get a massage right alongside your best friend.
inside Hotel Park Hills, Shirogane Shiki-no-mori, Shirogane Onsen, Biei-cho, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido
Here it is Asahikawa Airport, our final stop! I'll have to say farewell here to Asappy, my erstwhile traveling partner. Asappy, by the way, is a harbor seal who transformed into his current shape (kind of polar bear-ish, isn't he?) to come to the aid of Asahikawa's citizens. His clothing has a lot of Asahikawa symbols on them, from the Daisetsuzan mountains to the Asahi-bashi bridge. If you happen to run into him in town, tell him I said hello!
Higashi-2-sen-16, Higashi-kagura-cho, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido
JAL Cabin Assistant Dept. 1
I lived in Asahikawa as a child, but this was actually my first visit in a while.
The first thing that greeted me was the looming presence of the Daisetsuzan range, with just a bit of snow covering their peaks. The contrast between the mountains, the rice fields at their base, and the seemingly endless blue sky is just as beautiful as it always was. It was like I dived right into a work of fine art.
The places I visited during my drive around the countryside all made their own unique impressions upon me. Between the idyllic views, the locally-grown cuisine, and getting to talk with all the shopkeepers I ran into — as generous as the fertile Hokkaido soil — I think I really got a taste of everything Asahikawa offers the visitor.
I hope that all of you can come here and feel this natural atmosphere envelop you, body and soul.